FoodShare, South Carolina, aims to improve food security and consumption of fruit and vegetables for communities in Columbia, South Carolina that face limited access to fresh, nutritious foods.
The organization works by setting up a huge produce box once or twice a month that includes 10 to 12 types of fresh produce and a recipe card for healthy cooking suggestions. FoodShare SC also participates in the state’s Healthy Bucks Program, which allows SNAP recipients to purchase a bulk box of produce for $5, while Healthy Bucks funding pays the remaining $10 cost of the fund.
“Our statewide network uses a community-based approach that demonstrates that FoodShare is more than just a food box,” Wilson tells Food Tank. “Our goal is to improve the health conditions of those living in deprived areas of the state through access to food and working together to dismantle the oppressive regimes that cause and perpetuate poverty.”
While working as a certified diabetes educator, Beverly Wilson, co-founder and CEO of FoodShare SC, created the nonprofit in 2015 with colleague Carrie Draper, after learning that many of her patients couldn’t buy fresh food. Wilson and Draper decided to develop FoodShare SC as an alternative product distribution and nutrition program within the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. Across South Carolina, 18 nonprofits have replicated the FoodShare model and distributed more than 160,000 lunch boxes, containing more than 3 million pounds of produce since 2015.
A 2020 report from the Center for Research on Rural and Minority Health and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina found that nearly half of the state’s population — about 2.3 million people — live in low-food areas. In Richland County, where the capital of South Carolina, Columbia is located, 12 grocery stores have closed in low-income areas since 2016. According to a report by the Food Equity Subcommittee of the City of Columbia Food Policy Committee, the availability of groceries varies and the foods they sell Depends on demographics, as there are more stores with a greater selection of fresh fruits and vegetables in the white and rustic parts of town.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) shows that food insecurity and diabetes disproportionately affect black South Carolina residents. Diabetes, for example, is more prevalent among non-Hispanic black adults, at 16.2 percent, compared to 12.9 percent among non-Hispanic white adults.
“We can’t talk about access without talking about race. There is no doubt that these grocery stores that have closed since 2016 are located in low-income, black neighborhoods,” Umi Selma Rahmatullah, director of advocacy and policy at FoodShare SC, told Food Tank. “We really need to look at the disparities within our society on the basis of gender, race, and income. These are intertwined issues, especially in the South where the legacy of slavery is always present.”
To address these disparities, FoodShare SC’s programming is also working to address accessibility issues in the state’s urban and rural areas. The organization aims to reach more families through the Fresh Food On-The-Go project. In collaboration with the Central Midlands Regional Transportation Authority – known as COMET – FoodShare SC is offering public transport riders with busy schedules the opportunity to call in fresh produce at a popular bus stop on select days.
Among the organization’s other current initiatives, NeighborShare, is using a fleet of volunteers to deliver boxes of fresh food to the most vulnerable residents of many Midlands counties, an area that stretches across the middle of the state.
Reverend Kevin Russell Sheppard, Sr., pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, has worked closely with FoodShare SC to increase access to food in rural communities around Chapin, SC, a town about 24 miles northwest of Columbia. By reaching out to church members, Reverend Sheppard and other community volunteers began serving single parents and seniors outside the city limits of Columbia. Reverend Sheppard is also distributing FoodShare SC recipe cards with church members, to help the community stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
FoodShare is also trying to build an alliance with other organizations to advocate for long-term funding for Healthy Bucks in the state. In the future, the program is also considering creating a no-cook production fund that is ideal for low-income college students. Wilson told Food Tank that FoodShare SC hopes to continue to meet “people’s needs from a holistic perspective.”
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Image courtesy of FoodShare, South Carolina